How Nxivm’s Keith Raniere used multilevel marketing to catch the attention of victims

What persuades a seemingly rational adult to get associated in a pyramid plan?

Massachusetts legal professional Douglas Brooks, who signifies victims of multilevel marketing and advertising frauds, believes it is all in the offering.

“They use a variety of strategies to type of get persons to reduce their guard and to quit considering critically, not treating it as a business enterprise, but managing it as a way that they’re heading to fulfill their desires,” Brooks explained to CNBC’s “American Greed.”

1000’s of persons signed up for Nxivm (pronounced nek’-see-uhm), the group established by self-styled guru Keith Raniere to advertise his philosophy of “rational inquiry,” which he claimed offered the keys to better consciousness. Users, quite a few of them recruited from rich households, would pay out countless numbers of bucks for Nxivm programs. They could advance within just the corporation, and get paid “commissions” to offset some of their prices, by recruiting new members.

“You acquire a $5,000 program, and as shortly as you were performed with that, you would be told, ‘Now you happen to be actually completely ready to get the subsequent a person,'” previous Nxivm guide Frank Parlato instructed “American Greed.” “No person but Raniere and a pair at the best produced any sort of a residing wage.”

In October, a decide sentenced Raniere to 120 a long time in jail for his part in an offshoot of Nxivm, in which women were treated as slaves, compelled to have sexual intercourse with him and were being branded in their pelvic parts with his initials. Raniere, 60, was convicted on costs like racketeering and intercourse trafficking. Prosecutors alleged in the 2019 indictment that Raniere sat atop a series of “pyramid companies” that had been generally made to profit him.

“For Keith Raniere, this was about intercourse, cash and power,” former Assistant U.S. Lawyer Moira Penza advised “American Greed.”

Like Nxivm, the group regarded as DOS — an acronym for a Latin phrase approximately translated as “learn in excess of obedient women” — was structured as a multilevel group in which users had been envisioned to recruit other folks. In DOS, Raniere was regarded “grand master.” Recruits ended up referred to as “slaves.”

Actress Sarah Edmondson, who in 2017 became the initially DOS member to go community with claims of abuse, mentioned her recruiter claimed the group had a lofty goal.

“She advised me it was an worldwide women’s group that would be completely underground, and a group of girls operating together to be a pressure for excellent in the earth,” Edmondson explained. “I felt like I met the people today that I was going to be doing the job with to modify the entire world.”

It was only later on that Edmondson learned about the abuse, and that Raniere was at the leading of the pyramid.

Raniere, who has been held without bail considering the fact that his 2018 arrest and was moved this week to the federal penitentiary in Tucson, Arizona, is pleasing his 2019 conviction on seven felony counts. He did not reply to job interview requests from “American Greed,” but in an interview broadcast by NBC Information in advance of his sentencing, he insisted he did not dedicate any criminal offense.

2018 courtroom sketch Keith Raniere, next from ideal, chief of the secretive team NXIVM, attends a court docket hearing in the Brooklyn borough of New York.

Elizabeth Williams

At the trial, Raniere’s protection team argued that the gals of DOS consented to their cure. Nonetheless, Raniere explained in the job interview that he regretted what happened.

“I apologize for my participation in all of this — the suffering and suffering,” he reported. “I have clearly participated. I’ve been the leader of the community.” 

Power of persuasion

In a authorized multilevel advertising and marketing group, the father or mother company produces a network of independent salespeople to distribute its merchandise or providers. Raniere began his profession as a distributor for 1 of the very best-regarded respectable multilevel product sales businesses, Amway, in the 1980s.

A multilevel marketing firm can come to be an illegal pyramid plan if the concentrate, and the major source of potential cash flow for associates, is recruitment, somewhat than selling the products.

Brooks, the Massachusetts attorney, explained he was stunned by the sway Raniere held about his followers.

“He was obviously smart. But the notion that he could develop into this guru and bring in all these clever, perfectly-educated people today, and then have the detail graduate into a sexual intercourse-trafficking organization is just outside of perception,” reported Brooks. The legal professional fought authorized battles towards Raniere courting to an earlier multilevel enterprise — Consumers’ Buyline, which the New York attorney general’s office shut down in a 1996 settlement in which Raniere admitted no wrongdoing.

It may well be uncomplicated to dismiss Raniere’s followers as gullible dupes. But Nxivm attracted legions of organization leaders, former federal government officials and other notable individuals who bought what Raniere was offering.

Businesswoman Angela Ucci, who joined Nxivm shortly soon after it was established in 1998 and rose to develop into a senior trainer, remembers Raniere as unassuming however persuasive. She spoke solely with “American Greed.”

There was sexual things. There was company stuff. There was secrecy.

Angela Ucci

previous Nxivm member

“I think he was a grasp of that, of obtaining out about you and what designed you tick and what you ended up fascinated in,” Ucci claimed.

Ucci publicly broke with Raniere in 2009 — extended before the formation of DOS — immediately after what she said had been multiple inconsistencies concerning his teachings and his actions, which includes sexual improvements that she rebuffed. She was among the a team of defectors who claimed that Nxivm owed them a lot more than $2 million in unpaid commissions and other obligations, which Nxivm denied.

“There was sexual things. There was business stuff. There was secrecy,” she mentioned.

Other former users explained emotional and physical abuse. At minimum 1 Nxivm member dedicated suicide.

Staying on guard

Brooks claimed folks who believe that they will by no means uncover them selves in a comparable condition do so at their peril.

“The key is to generally be skeptical,” he stated.

To be certain, not all multilevel marketing corporations are unlawful pyramid schemes. But the Federal Trade Commission, which presents strategies about how to location the variation, warns that even in the authorized packages, achievement is not as simple as the product sales pitch may well suggest.

“Most men and women who be a part of reputable MLMs make small or no income,” the company suggests.

The FTC claims to watch for these warning signals of an illegal pyramid plan:

  • Promoters make extravagant claims about your earning probable.
  • Promoters emphasize recruiting new distributors for your profits community as the true way to make income. 
  • Promoters perform on your emotions or use large-pressure gross sales practices.
  • Distributors acquire a lot more goods than they want to use or can resell, just to stay energetic in the company or to qualify for bonuses or other rewards. 

Brooks explained the recruiting method utilised in pyramid techniques makes them specifically hard to place.

“Usually, your introduction to this detail is going to occur from anyone that you know, a pal or a household member, or a member of your church or local community firm,” he stated. “It’s a reliable romance to some extent.”

The pitches are also intentionally vague, glossing above the improbability of at any time making dollars.

“They don’t say, ‘I’ve bought this group in which you have to recruit all your close friends, and possibly if you recruit ample persons, and they recruit enough individuals, and their recruits recruit more than enough men and women, you happen to be heading to get wealthy,'” Brooks explained.

“You have bought to preserve up your guard and request thoughts about it. And the a lot more you ask concerns, the a lot more you’ll discover out that this human being that is recruiting you probably would not know a hell of a whole lot on their own.”

In addition to Raniere’s conviction, 5 other Nxivm leaders pleaded responsible to felony prices. Most have yet to be sentenced.

Dozens of previous Nxivm users, led by Edmondson, have submitted a civil accommodate from Raniere and other folks, as properly as versus Nxivm alone, looking for unspecified damages for their ordeal. The scenario is on hold as the remaining prison instances enjoy out, so neither Raniere nor the other defendants have responded.

“Pyramid promoters, like all con artists, tailor their misrepresentations to make them plausible to the focus on audience,” the go well with suggests.

See how Keith Raniere designed a technique of horrific abuse in the form of a pyramid. Watch an ALL NEW episode of “American Greed” Monday, January 25 at 10pm ET/PT only on CNBC.